Dessalines’ 1804 Proclamation to the Dominicans

On June 21, 1804 the newspaper The Ostega Herald of Cooperstown, NY published the article Massacre of All The Whites at Cape Francois. This article was written on June 4, 1804 in New York City based on the information given by the crew of a boat that made a port of call in Haiti prior to arriving at New York. During the port of call the crew got information on the massacre and a copy of the proclamation that Jean Jacques Dessalines made to the inhabitants of the Spanish part of the island of Santo Domingo prior to his terrible invasion of 1805.

Some Observations

  • Cap Francois was the original name for the city of Cap Haitien. It was also known as The Cape.
  • The town of Fort Dauphin today is known as Fort Liberte.
  • General Ferrand was the French governor of the Spanish part of the island ever since General Leclerc died from Yellow Fever. The Spanish part of the island fell into French hands when the French troops arrived in 1802.
  • General Rochembeau was one of the main generals of the French army. He declared a cease fire against the Haitians, in essence putting an end to the hostilities in Haiti. He and Dessalines signed an agreement regarding the latter promising to protect the injured French soldiers that were to be left on the island until France could send a boat to take them to Europe. Despite the promise given by Dessalines, a few days after General Rochambeau parted for France all the injured French soldiers that were left in Cap Francois were drowned in the town’s main river. This was done by orders of Dessalines.
  • In 1804 Dessalines proclaims the independence of Haiti and from that moment the inhabitants of the old French part of the island call themselves Haitians. However, the Spanish part of the island remained governed by roughly 2,000 Frenchmen lead by General Ferrand. All the Dominicans, regardless of skin colors, continued to consider themselves as Spanish during this time and everyone, including the Haitians, referred to the Dominican people as Spanish and as Spaniards.

The 1804 Massacre of the French

Painting from the XIX century depicting a scene of the 1804 massacre of the French in Haiti. This massacre was done by orders of Jean Jacques Dessalines.

In 1804 the General Governor of Haiti Jean Jacques Dessalines orders the general massacre of all the French, regardless of sex or age. According to the information in the article, the massacre took place from April 19 to May 14, 1804 in the entire territory of Haiti.

This massacre, which was the last and most complete of various massacres the Haitians had committed against the French since 1791, had a terrifying impact on the Dominican psyche. The result was a horrible fear of the Haitians which lead the Dominicans to put their faith on the French troops sent by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 with General Leclerc at the head. Upon the death of General Leclerc, Napoleon’s expedition is lead by General Ferrand. The widespread rejection the Dominicans had towards Dessalines’ authority, in addition to the alliance the Dominicans made with the French troops, is what produced the rage that Dessalines imposes on the Dominican civilian population during the invasion of 1805.

Excerpts from the Article Regarding the Massacre of the French

All the French inhabitants [of Cap Francois], including men, women and children, to the number of 2,000 and 2,500; were put to the sword or bayonet at The Cape during the above period.

On April 22, Fort Dauphin was pillaged and all the whites, to the number of about ninety men, women and children, were massacred and part of the town destroyed. A few days after, the French inhabitants of other parts of the interior were escorted to The Cape and there destroyed in the most wanton manner.

Men, women and children were hacked down with swords and plunged with bayonets. Women with children in their arms were seeen flying through the streets to avoid their pursuers. Being overtaken by them, one shrust of a bayonet pierced both mother and child!

After this dreadful massacre, the dead lay in the streets for three days, when the inhabitants were ordered to remove those within a certain distance of each dwelling. They were afterwards dragged off and thrown in a ditch at the foot of a mountain.

Previous to the massacre, certain of the blacks in order to obtain the property of the whites which was secreted, called on them individually and promised to spare their lives if they would give it up. Having obtained it, not one of them was excempt from the general massacre! The property thus perfidiously obtained (consisting of gold, jewels, and plate) was said to be immense. Gold was brought to the town in hatfuls by the blacks and offered in exchange for silver for less than half its value.

The Size of Dessalines’ Army

At the date of our advices, Dessalines was erecting strong fortifications in the mountains. His force consists of 60,000 men.

The Real Reason for Dessalines’ Proclamation to the Dominicans

On May 12, Dessalines issued a proclamation (a copy of which follows) calling upong the Spanish inhabitants of the city of Santo Domingo to declare themselves for or against him, allowing them fifteen days to determine. This proclamation was made in consequence, it is said, of having received dispatches from Port-au-Prince informing him of the arrival of a reinforcement of French troops at Santo Domingo.

The Proclamation to the Dominicans

The proclamation was made on May 12, 1804 with the purpose of letting the Dominicans know that if they did not united with Haiti they can expect the worst of the punishments along with the last remnants of the French troops that were based in Santo Domingo. This disproves the myth that Dessalines did not invade to fight against the Dominicans, but rather that it was exclusively to fight the French. When Dessalines makes the decision to invade the Spanish part of the island in the first half of 1805, he did it with the intention of beating the French that were in Santo Domingo and afterwards commit a general massacre of the Dominican people.

Since Dessalines was not able to capture the city of Santo Domingo and beat the French, on his forced marches returning back to Haiti he ordered the Haitian troops to torture to death every single innocent Dominican inhabitant found along the way. The massacre of the Dominicans was not complete because the Haitian troops were only able to destroy everything along their path. If the Haitians would had captured Santo Domingo and beat the French, the extermination of the Dominican people would had been a given, because the Haitians were going to have complete control of the entire island. It would not had left time or space for those Dominicans that managed to flee into the forests and those that hid in the savannahs to effectively save their lives for long.

During the massacre of the French in 1804, it was a very common practice for Dessalines to offer the French protection if they show fidelity to him. However, his words and promises never were sincere and were used to make those French that were successful at hiding and avoiding their premature deaths, to present themselves to Dessalines. Once they congregated before him, he ordered them butchered to death. There are no reasons to think that he was not going to apply the same technique on the Dominicans. In fact, this very same thing was done in the massacre committed in the Dominican town of Moca.

To the inhabitants of the Spanish part. 

Scarce had the French army been expelled when you hastened to acknowledge my authority. By a free and spontaneous movement of your hearts, you ranged yourselves under my subjection. More careful of the prosperity than the ruin of that part which you inhabit, I gave to this homage a favorable reception. From that moment I considered you as my children and my fidelity to you remains undiminished. As a proof of my paternal forcitude, within the places which have submitted to my power, I have proposed for chiefs none but men chosen from among yourselves. Jealous of counting you in the ranks of my friends, that I might give you all the time necessary for recollection and I may assure myself of your fidelity. I have hitherto restrained the burning ardor of my soldiers. Already I congratulated myself on the success of my solicitude, which had for its object to prevent the effusion of blood. But at this time a fanatic priest had not kindled in your breasts the rage which predominates therein. The incensed Ferrand had not yet instilled into you the poison of falsehood and calumny. Writings originating in despair and weakness have been circulated, and immediately many amongst you, seduced by perfidious insinuations, solicited the friendship and protection of the French. They dare to outrage my kindness by coalescing with my cruel enemies. Spaniards, reflect! On the brink of the precipice which is dug under your feet, will that diabolical minister save you when with fire and sword I shall have pursued you to your last entrentchment? 

Ah! Without doubt his prayers, his grimaces, his relics would be no impediment to my career. Vain as powerless, can he preserve you from my just anger after I shall have burried him and the collection of brigands he commands under the ruins of your capital city! Let them both recollect that it is before my intrepid phalanxes that all the resources and the skill of Europeans have proved ineffectual. And that into my victorious hands the destiny of the Captain General Rochambeau has been surrendered. To lure the Spaniards to their party, they propagate the report that vessels laden with troops have arrived at Santo Domingo. Why is it not the truth? They little imagine that in delaying to attack until this time my principal object has been to increase the mass of our resources and the number of our victims. To spread distrust and terror, they incessantly dwell upon the fate which the French have just experienced; but, have I not had reason to treat them so. The wrongs of the French, do they appertain to the Spaniards? And must I visit on the latter the crimes which the former have conceived, ordered, and executed upon our species? They have the effrontery to say that, reduced to seek safety in flight, I am gone to conceal my defeat in the southern part of the island. Well then! Let them learn that I am ready and that the thunderbolt is going to fall upon their heads. Let them know that my soldiers are impatiently waiting for the signal to go and reconquer the boundaries which nature and the elements have assigned to us. A few moments more and I will crush the remnants of the French under the weight of my mighty power. 

Spaniards! You to whom I address solely because I wish to save you. You who, for having been guilty of evasion, shall speedily perserve your existence only so far as my clemency may deing to spare you. It is yet time, adjure an error which may be fatal to you and break off all connections with my enemy if you wish your blood may not be confounded with his. Name without delay that part of your territory on which my first blow is to be struck or inform me whether I must strike on all points without discrimination. I give you fifteen days from the date of this proclamation to forward your intentions and to rally under my banners. You are not ignorant that all the roads of Santo Domingo in every direction are familiar to us. That more than once we have seen your dispersed bands fly before us. In a word, you know what I can do and what I dare. Think of your preservation. 

Receive here the sacred promise which I make not do anything against your personal safety or your interests, if you seize upon this occasion to shew yourselves worthy of being admitted among the children of Haiti. 

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